Thursday, April 30, 2009

Retirement plans

Wonder if these ladies started their business after more traditional investments got wiped out on Wall Street last year?

A northeastern Pennsylvania prosecutor said he's shocked that two sisters accused of selling heroin are 65 and 70 years old. Monroe County District Attorney David Christine told reporters Wednesday that to look at the suspects, it's hard to believe the charges they face.

Police said the women are believed to have been dealing heroin out of their Stroudsburg-area homes for almost six months and pulling in about $10,000 a week in sales.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Retail therapy

Well, it wasn't gear shopping in the DaveO sense, but the trip to REI was worth it even if I didn't emerge toting a kayak or a tent.

I must say, however, that a quick trip to REI on one's lunch break can make it really, really hard to go back to the cubicle for the afternoon.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's about time

Arlen Specter has finally admitted that all the Eisenhower Republicans are now calling themselves Democrats.

[It occurs to me that maybe I should have saved the flying pig for this post, but unfortunately I'm not psychic.]

It's been a slow week

Not sure if it's simple ennui or, more likely given that this is Atlanta in the spring, pollen poisoning, but I haven't had much interest in the intertubes lately. Been neglecting reading my favorite blogs, and haven't felt much interest in posting either. I do the trek back and forth to work each day, edit papers describing various exotic infectious diseases, add another country to the list of places I'll never go or another food to the list of things I'll never eat, then go home and settle down to rot my brain with mediocre books or mindless television. Not even the panic over flying pigs spreading killer disease has done much to wake me up.

Of course, it's hard to get excited about influenza (chills, fever, generally crappy feeling) after reading about 30-meter long tapeworms resulting from eating sushi. Thirty meters! That's a lot of parasite to have crawl out of your butt. How does anyone manage to walk around with something that long residing in their gut and not know it?! Yet another reason to avoid eating bait. (Apparently it is possible to kill the tapeworm larva without cooking the fish -- you flash freeze it to below -20 degrees Celsius and keep it that cold for at least 12 hours -- but true sushi and sashimi fans prefer their salmon so fresh it's still flopping around as the chef starts slicing.)

Because I work at Large Nameless Agency, a government entity that has a fairly high profile in public health, I've been getting lots of e-mails from various friends and acquaintances asking me about swine flu. As if I'd know. I'm getting my information the same way every else in the country is: by watching the acting director do press conferences and/or issue statements. About the only thing that differentiates me from the general public is I already own an N95 mask, the result of respirator training I had almost a year ago. (An N95 mask is one step up from the cheapest type of dust mask, but not by much.) What we're hearing (or reading) internally is the same thing they're telling the public, which is basically wash your hands often and don't sneeze on other people -- and if you feel sick, stay home instead of going to work and spreading your germs. In essence, the acting director is telling me the same stuff my mother would.

I will concede there is a certain amount of schadenfreude to be had in watching the Repugnicans highlighted in sound bites on CNN, clips of them bloviating a few weeks ago when they railed against giving any money to the CDC, FDA, Homeland Security, and other agencies for pandemic disease preparedness. Susan Collins in particular must be experiencing a lot of "Let me just die now" moments when she watches the news these days -- assuming she does, which is always debatable with politicians. Wolf Blitzer was like a puppy with a new chew toy yesterday, playing the clip over and over and over of Collins sounding smug and happy about taking money away from public health preparedness. Heard a great line somewhere to the effect that "Texas governor Rick Goodhair Perry has deferred rejecting federal aid until after the CDC ships the state its allotment of Tamiflu."

One of the more interesting aspects of this whole swine flu thing for me is seeing again just how many people have no clue just what exactly influenza is or how you get it. Listening to "idiot on the street" interviews where people say astoundingly dumb stuff like "I've stopped eating pork" floors me. Influenza is an air-borne upper respiratory infection -- the only way eating pork could give it to anyone would be if a sick waiter sneezed on a ham sandwich just before serving it to you. It's not enteric, you don't get the trots. Zillions of people get the flu every year while thinking it's a common cold, then they suffer food poisoning and think they've got the flu when it's actually salmonellosis. Very strange. Not particularly surprising considering the sad state of science education in this country, but still strange. You'd think if people were willing to line up to get shots to prevent an illness they'd at least have some idea of just what the symptoms for that illness are, but apparently not.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


More stuff you never expect to see in print, although this time it's science, not politics:

Humans who consume antler velvet as a nutritional supplement are at risk for exposure to prions.
Prions, for those of you who don't pay attention to stuff like Mad Cow, are miscropic entities responsible for a number of diseases, like bovine spongiform encepholapathy in cattle (Mad Cow)and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk. So is eating antler velvet some sort of woo (alternative medicine)I haven't heard about before? And should I be glad?

According to the article, it's yet another supposed aphrodisiac imported from the Far East. I know actual antlers get ground up for use as virility boosters, so why not the velvet, too? I wonder how long it'll be before Smiling Bob comes down with CWD?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Some thoughts on right wing demagogues

Paul Waldman at the American Prospect:
One of the things that is so remarkable about folks like Beck is that they always seem focused on government actions that have as little to do with our "freedom" as one could imagine. They're Mad As Hell about the stimulus bill (damn construction projects, taking away our freedom!) but couldn't care less about, say, warrantless wiretapping of American citizens. In response to a spate of these warnings about our descent into "tyranny," Jon Stewart had what might have been the best response:

I think you might be confusing tyranny with losing. And I feel for you, because I've been there. A few times. In fact, one of them was a bit of a nail-biter. But see, when the guy that you disagree with gets elected, he's probably going to do things you disagree with. He could cut taxes on the wealthy, remove government's oversight capability, invade a country that you thought should not be invaded, but that's not tyranny. That's democracy. See, now you're in the minority. It's supposed to taste like a shit taco.

But that taste is becoming intolerable for some. Even if their taxes have actually gone down, well, they still feel oppressed by Washington. They cried "socialism!" and no one seemed to care. Now they cry "fascism!" and still their words do not cause the whole nation to rise up. It must be terribly frustrating. But that's the thing about democracy -- it can be pretty frustrating, particularly when you lose. What the right doesn't seem to get is that the more extreme and shrill their rhetoric grows, the less convincing they become to the broader public. And the more ridiculous they seem.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Weekend roundup

Saturday morning. C-SPAN. Good times. They're talking about NSA and erosion of civil liberties, wire tapping, the damage done by the Bushites, and Obama's rather disappointing stance since his move into the White House. No tin foil hats yet, but I've only had the television on for about ten minute.

I have now finished the second week at the journal. It's been interesting. Work actually moves at a fairly brisk pace, as might be expected with a monthly periodical, so there isn't much down time in the Dilbert cage. Don't think I'll be doing much blogging, either writing or reading, from work for awhile. It feels good to be busy -- lots less guilt involved when I cash the paycheck. For some reason the first half dozen assignments were all zoonoses that focused more on animal hosts than on humans (anteaters with the flu, wild geese with bronchitis, pigs carrying cryptosporidia) but I'm sure there will be plenty of people-only diseases, too. There's an amazing amount of variety in every issue, from opportunistic infections in cancer patients to dolphins getting skin diseases.

All the authors I've dealt with so far have been nice, too. No one's been upset because of the way we've changed his or her deathless prose, although I've been warned it will happen. Apparently that's one of the reasons the person I'm filling in for left so quickly. He had to deal with an author who didn't like the edits, and wanted to argue them. Having been on the author's side of the editing equation, I can empathize with a writer who feels like his voice has been erased; what I have trouble is understanding why my predecessor would allow a writer's unhappiness to bother him. I always thought one of the requirements for being an editor was having a skin similar to elephant hide. You let the authors vent, you make (fake) sympathetic noises, you lie and assure them that you'll put back whatever it is they want put back in, and by the time the article is in print they're so busy with newer projects that they don't do more than double-check to make sure their names were spelled right in the by-line.

I am still walking to work, although it's a longer hike now -- over a mile instead of just a couple blocks. The longest part of the walk time-wise is just standing at a couple intersections waiting for the lights to change so I dare venture into the crosswalks. As is typical of walking any distance in Atlanta, sidewalks are hit or miss. There are none in the office park (Executive Park) that's my destination now other than right around the individual buildings. Executive Park was developed in the 1960s. In some ways it's quite nice -- the buildings are spread out, with lots of green space and mature landscaping surrounding them. It's really pretty at this time of year with the azaleas, dogwoods, ornamental cherries, and other shrubbery all in bloom. But it's also totally auto-centric, with each building being like an island. It's a very contradictory design -- really nice landscaping, lots of open space, but no provisions made for something as simple as outdoor tables where people could eat lunch and no sidewalks from the bus stops to the buildings. The property owner is supposedly in the process of re-developing the site, plans to tear down existing buildings and rebuild as a mixed use development with office space, retail, and housing in a walkable setting. The new urbanism, I guess, but how successful it'll be is debatable. Atlanta has an abundance of empty commercial space now, and the housing market is (as we all know) not exactly booming either.

Executive Park is supposedly one of the first office park developments out in the suburbs. To me that sounds really strange -- I have a hard time visualizing a time when being maybe 6 miles from downtown Atlanta would be considered "out in the suburbs," but the metropolitan population was a lot lower 40 years ago.

I'm still trying to figure out, too, just what it was about the work space that bothered my predecessor to the point where he wanted out after barely a month on the job. [He gave three reasons: being in a cubicle, difficult authors, and the deadlines--and all three were things that were emphasized during the pre-employment interviews.] Granted, a cubicle may not be as private as an actual office, but it's a big one (and the cabinets are metal so I can put up my magnets), the lighting is good, the environment is quiet (very little ambient noise in the general area of the veal pen), the breakroom is clean and the vending machine is stocked with Cheetos, co-workers seem to be reasonably friendly, and there's a communal coffee pot so the caffeine supply never wanes. Given my tendencies toward kvetching, if I can be there for two weeks and the only thing I can find to complain about is the lack of sidewalks in Executive Park -- it's a good place to work.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The mind boggles

We live in strange times. There's been so much stupid in the news lately I'm not sure just where to begin. The mind boggles.

Today was teabagging day. The levels of stupid embedded in that whole astroturf endeavor remind me of one those Russian matryoshka dolls, except infinite. Every time you think you've reached the innermost layer of right wing wackaloon ineptitude and downright dumb, you discover there's yet another layer inside.

First, they start off by calling the whole phony movement "teabagging." Doesn't anyone at Fox News ever bother to Google anything?! I'm not going to get into the fun various commentators have been having with that one. The snark is running thick and deep as television writers vie with each other to see just how many double entendres they can slip into one 30-second sound bite. Cavuto et al finally caught on and began using the term "tea party" instead, but woefully late.

Of course, Neil Cavuto isn't noted for his keen intelligence. He is, after all, the guy who claims the Fox News network covered the Million Man March back in 1995. The fact Fox News didn't exist at the time is apparently irrelevant.

Then, even though this is clearly an astroturf effort, a totally phony endeavor being pushed by Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News, they manage to sucker people into actually showing up for the event and allowing themselves to be filmed complaining about the way Obama is running the country. How stupid does an ordinary working person have to be to bitch about being given a tax cut?! Or to support giving more money to billionaires? It's moderately amazing the right wing faithful are able to walk and wave their misspelled signs at the same time. (I was tempted to run downtown today to see just how many people showed up, but didn't want to artificially inflate their numbers by even one body. The crowd didn't look that big on the news, but no doubt by tomorrow Sean Hannity will be making it sound like everyone in Atlanta was there. Or at least everyone white. It did not appear to be a particularly diverse group.)

[H/T to Orac for the great graphic.]

Pharaohs not allowed to be fat?

Fat prejudice is everywhere. I was cruising along, happily perusing a National Geographic article on "The She-King of Egypt," and hit this little gem:

When Zahi Hawass set out to find Her Majesty King Hatshepsut, he was fairly certain of one thing: The naked mummy found resting on the floor of a minor tomb was not her. "When I started searching for Hatshepsut, I never thought I would discover that she was this mummy," Hawass says. For starters, she had no apparent regal bearing; she was fat, and as Hawass wrote in an article published in the journal KMT, she had 'huge pendulous breasts' of the sort more likely to be found on Hatshepsut's wet nurse.
WTF?! Dr. Hawass has found a lot of fat mummies on various digs -- not pharaohs, but plenty of upper level bureaucrats (priests, usually) who were definitely rotund. He's been on the History Channel plenty of times talking about different excavations, tomb paintings, mummies, you name it and he's been there in what National Geographic calls his "trademark fedora." He knows that the middle and upper classes, if they lived long enough, turned portly. Except all the fat dudes he's dug up have been just that: dudes.

It was rather mind-blowing to realize that modern society's vision of what "successful" women are supposed to look like is so pervasive that even an experienced archeologist like Dr. Hawass was operating on autopilot and assuming that when/if he found Hatshepsut she'd look like Rachel Weisz (aka Princess Nefertiri) instead of what she was: a middle-aged woman who also happened to be the one person in ancient Egypt who never had to worry about going hungry.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Think you've got problems?

Imagine being an anteater with a stuffed up nose.

One of the things I love about my job are the odd bits of data that come across the desk. Anteaters get the flu, complete with upper respiratory problems like nasal congestion. And not only do they get the flu, it's the same flu humans get.

How do we know that, you may ask? The researchers ran DNA tests on viruses they found in anteater snot.

As for why this matters -- giant anteaters are considered a threatened species, no one knew they could get influenza, and for sure no one realized they could catch it from humans.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Pulitzer Project: One of Ours

One of Ours earned the Pulitzer in 1923. This story of a Nebraska farm boy who ends up dying in France in World War I is not novelist Willa Cather's best work. I had the advantage of reading it in the context of some of Cather's other writings as I was unable to find a library copy that was a stand-alone edition of the novel.

One of Ours was the final work included in Early Novels and Stories -- final in the sense of being the concluding piece in the book; I have no way of knowing if it was the last thing the editor picked for inclusion -- so by the time I read it I'd already gone through The Troll Garden (collection of short stories), O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Antonia. I suppose I could have jumped straight to One of Ours, but several people had mentioned either O Pioneers! or My Antonia as "must reads," so I took their advice. After reading the earlier novels and then reading One of Ours, I could only conclude that the judges for the Pulitzer were honoring Cather for multiple novels, not just one.

One of Ours is not a weak book. It's actually quite good; it's just not as good as the other novels. This could be due to the World War I theme -- critics at the time assailed Cather for romanticizing the war because Claude Wheeler (the hero) has more than his fair share of internal monologues in which he thinks of it as a noble cause, the finest thing he's ever done, and the reason he was born. I didn't view as a romanticization. Cather is quite detailed in describing the horrors that had accompanied the war, the families devastated, the countryside ruined (and still ruined -- Orion had an article recently about World War I unexploded ordnance from the Battle of Verdun still making 12 million acres of land uninhabitable and unusable; several people die every year in the attempt to find and clear that ordnance), and lives cut short. Cather may romanticize Claude; she doesn't romanticize the war.

From what I've read and heard, Cather's strongest works were nourished by her Nebraska roots. Her family moved to south central Nebraska from Virginia when she was quite young. She graduated from Red Cloud high school, and then went on to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Early Novels and Stories includes a capsule biography in the form a timeline that provides brief descriptions of various periods in Cather's life.

One of Ours draws heavily on Cather's Nebraska background. The Wheeler farm is located in the same part of Nebraska that Red Cloud is, southwest of Hastings, close to the Kansas border, and definitely on the Great Plains. Mr. Wheeler is a contradictory figure, a large, hearty man with the reputation of being more interested in watching others work than doing it himself but who nonetheless has taken a small homestead and turned into a large, profitable farming operation. He comes across, at least to the modern reader, as a sadistic bully in his relations with his wife and his middle son, Claude. The oldest Wheeler son is gone from home when the book opens, living in town and operating a successful farm implements business. The two younger boys, Claude and Ralph, are still at home, not quite grown but close to it. Both have finished high school; Claude has just finished his second year at a small church-owned college in Lincoln. Claude is serious, hard-working, and totally reliable. Ralph seems to be more of a wastrel, impulsive, and lazy. Naturally, when Mr. Wheeler buys a ranch in Colorado and needs someone to run it he delegates the task to Ralph, the slacker son.

Claude is a good natured youth, totally miserable at home, of course, but no one recognizes his misery -- or, if they do, they discount it. He's also incredibly passive and unimaginative. He spends a lot of time feeling wretched and thinking there should be more to life than there is, but can't figure out what -- and, despite being technically an adult and thus capable of making his own decisions, he lets his parents run his life. He didn't want to attend the church college, and doesn't really want to be a farmer, but just accepts both fates as inevitable. Eventually he ends up married to a girl he's known since childhood, a girl who has grown up to be a religion and temperance fanatic, not to mention a vegetarian. Not exactly the best choice for an agnostic farmer who enjoys good steak and whiskey, but he marries her anyway. One of Cather's standards in every novel seems to be at least one example of a really bad marriage -- One of Ours features several fairly dysfunctional relationships, but Claude's is definitely the worst.

And then the U.S. gets into World War I. Claude decides to enlist, discovers a sense of purpose, and goes off to France. His fate is predictable.
I think the biggest problem I had with this book was the way Claude drifts. He's wretched, but he keeps his wretchedness to himself, and just goes in whatever direction people push him. The few times he actually makes choices for himself they turn out badly. He proposes, and ends up trapped in a loveless marriage. He enlists, and ends up dead. Cather's other books are full of examples of human tragedy, too, but the characters either seem more resilient or unfortunate victims of events they couldn't control. Antonia gets walloped by fate (an unfaithful lover who leaves her pregnant and disgraced), but she rebounds. Thea Kronberg (The Song of the Lark) is also totally misunderstood by her family, although they do recognize she has musical talent, but she's self-aware enough to know she has to get out of her hometown if she's ever going to be happy. People end up dead in O Pioneers!, and while the deaths make sense in terms of literary conventions there isn't the same sense of them sleepwalking through life that Claude projects.

Now that I've started on Cather I suppose I'll have to read the rest of her oeuvre. She has a real gift for descriptions -- the reader can almost smell the prairie -- and the books seem to hold up reasonably well. I've always been curious about her first novel, Alexander's Bridge, as it was inspired by a real incident, the 1907 Quebec bridge disaster, and I did a lot of reading about the disaster back when I researching my dissertation. I've heard Alexander's Bridge is also one of her worst as the setting is so far removed from her own background, but I think I'll go looking for it next anyway.

Photos are old ones I found in a family album. I have no clue who those people in the first one are. They're on a post card that was sent to my grandmother. The cemetery is a World War II cemetery in France; the photo was taken in 1944.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Things are turning nasty

I've been thinking about some of the recent weirdness in the news, the various shooting rampages, the tanking economy, the demented rantings of right wing wackaloons, and trying to figure just how to express some of the misgivings I've been feeling. Now I don't have to -- Ed over at Gin and Tacos has a great post up on the right wing and how it reacts to losing elections:

During the Clinton years we had the Waco siege, Timothy McVeigh, the Olympic bombing (by a pro-life extremist), and a revitalization of the neo-Nazi and nationalist right. In the past year we’ve had a man go on a shooting spree to kill as many liberals as possible while another murdered three police officers because he was convinced that Obama was coming to take his guns away. Think it’s unfair to pick out these isolated” examples? Fine. Find me one example of a liberal snapping and rushing off to “kill as many conservatives as possible until the cops kill me.” Go on. I’ll wait.

Republicans get elected and the worst that happens to America is some shrill rhetoric, empty threats to move to Canada, and the occasional public protest. Democrats get elected and the right instantly goes over the edge; we get Federal courthouse bombings and shooting sprees. These incidents, I’m afraid, won’t be the only ones of their kind during the Obama years. I worry that we’re going to have another Oklahoma City. I worry that we’re going to see more unhinged white guys who dabble in neo-Nazi circles snapping and going on shooting sprees. I worry that someone’s going to take a shot at the President. I worry because I think all of these things are virtually assured to happen in the next four or eight years.

Go read the rest. It's worth it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

I am never eating sushi again

Today was my first day as a copy editor at the journal. Things were, of course, slow. I was given the obligatory tour (location of supplies cabinets, women's room, break room and vending machines), and then got to kill time waiting for the IT guy to get there to get me networked to a printer and push a couple pieces of specialized software on to the computer. So I spent the time doing the logical thing: reading the journal to get a feel for its style.

I learned a number of things. There certainly are a lot of unpronounceable pathogens out there. There are lot more zoonotic diseases than I thought possible -- and it's not just various critters passing diseases to us, we're passing diseases to them, too.

And I'm never eating sushi again.
[The patient] visited HTD again with a serpiginous, raised lesion on his back and surrounding erythema and eosinophilia (0.9 × 109 cells/L). He was treated empirically with albendazole, 400 mg 2×/d for 21 days, and praziquantel, 20 mg/kg as a single dose, for presumptive diagnosis of helminthic infection. Over the next 6 days, the serpiginous lesion migrated over his shoulder and neck, disappeared for 24 hours, then reappeared between his eyebrows, moved to his forehead and face, and then was felt inside his nose. On day 6, a spot developed below his left nostril, from which he expressed a larva. He brought it to HTD, where it was identified as Gnathostoma spinigerum.
In short, he'd picked up parasitic worms by eating raw fish.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Car shopping

It looks like the S.O. and I might be starting the "new" vehicle search a tad earlier than we had planned. The current vehicle has begun displaying little quirks that make us nervous. We got stuck in stop-and-go traffic on I-85 southwest of Atlanta yesterday, and the transmission began doing things it should not do. No problems getting home, just the minor inconvenience of stopping for lunch a little earlier than planned and letting things cool down, but nonetheless a worrying sign we may soon be confronted with a major expense. I'm not at all happy with the idea of having to invest in transmission repairs on a pick-up that's 14 years old and starting to rust around the edges, but I'm also not happy with the prospect of spending a lot more money on a totally different vehicle.

On the other hand. . . this could be the ideal time to car shop. Lots of inventory on the lots, dealers willing to deal, and no major pressure to grab the first thing we spot that both matches the budget and our needs. So now I guess the S.O. and I need to have a serious chat about just what it is we want to buy -- he's leaning toward a 3/4 ton diesel pickup and I'm thinking PT Cruisers look kind of cool. Obviously, at this point we're not exactly on the same page.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Rightwing arrogance and ignorance

I've been listening to C-SPAN this morning, and as might be expected there's a lot of fretting about the 2010 fiscal year budget, the one that will go into effect for the federal government on October 1 of this year. There have been the usual rightwing wackaloons calling in, doing their figurative foaming at the mouth about how the Obama administration isn't doing anything for the average American. A particular target of derision was the "$14 more per pay period," an amount of money per individual that the wackaloons seem to find particularly amusing. As one caller said, "A package of chicken breasts they wouldn't have bought otherwise. Big deal."

I loved the response from Democratic congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, which was basically, yes, it is a big deal. If you've been getting by on peanut butter and Top Ramen and you now have a chance to buy something more substantial for a meal or two for your family, it does make a difference. He did a nice job of politely reaming the callers who mocked the small amount as being trivial and of no consequence. He also pointed out that a number of items that the Republicans are now using as talking points to disparage the budget are items that were inserted by Republicans to begin with, including a good number of the much maligned "earmarks."

It hit me (again) just how unbelievably arrogant, ignorant, and smug the rightwing tinfoil hat crowd is.

It also hit me that as that approximately $14 per person starts hitting paychecks, convincing folks that Obama isn't doing anything for them is going to get a little harder.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Another reason we need national health

I've been reading Mother Jones this week and am currently in the middle of an article about sustainable agriculture. It's pretty clear that despite all the hype about eating healthy, being locavores, and shopping at the farmer's market to help reduce the carbon footprint of your food, it's not a viable plan for the entire globe.

The article makes a number of interesting points, but one happened to stand out, probably because it's the one thing we keep hearing can't be addressed during the current economic crisis: national health care. Turns out farming is yet another area where the lack of a national health care system has become an uncounted cost to society as a whole.

One of the things everyone seems to deplore about modern industrial farming is monocropping, the specialization in just one area: thousands of acres of wheat, for example, or hundreds of acres of nothing but carrots. There's a lot of lamenting the loss of the family farm, the postcard places where the farmer would raise various row crops, set up a stand by the side of the road, and everything looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. What rarely gets asked is why farmers monocrop.

One answer, of course, is economies of scale. That one is fairly obvious.

What isn't quite as obvious is that it is a rare farmer today who works only one job:
one reason farmers prefer labor-saving monoculture is that it frees them to take an off-farm job, which for many is the only way to get health insurance. Thus, the simplest way to encourage sustainable farming might be offering a subsidy for affordable health care.
We've known for years that one reason U.S. auto companies have trouble competing with non-U.S. firms is the cost of health benefits to employees. Now it turns out it's an issue in farming, too. Yet we keep hearing that with the economy in the toilet the nation "can't afford" to address health care now. When are the experts inside the Beltway going to figure out that until we do address health care costs, we won't be able to fix anything else?